Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Eavesdroppers & Are Confirmed Bachelors Allowed?

Dear Auntie Seraphic, 

As someone who now lives in the UK, can you illumine me on the seeming paradox of the confirmed bachelor, or at least the seeming paradox of the Catholic confirmed bachelor? This phenomenon is  associated with British men, though I'm sure there are no shortage of American men living as Confirmed Bachelors. As I approach 30 (aged 28), I'm puzzled by men in their 40s who, faithful to all the teachings of the Church they strive to be, seem to show no inclination toward marriage, Holy Orders, or religious life. 

I'm sometimes on the defensive against those who think I'm odd for not being married or in the convent by now, since I'm firmly in the camp of "vocation is a vowed way of loving, either consecrated solely to God or vowed to one's spouse," and as such I don't view unconsecrated single-life as a vocation but rather a state in life. I feel vague pressure about finding a husband, to which I usually respond with a sometimes-witty comment about waiting on God's will and it being the job of men to seek wives rather than the job of women to seek husbands. 

But for men, how do they spin this? I suppose if a man really doesn't want to bother with women, it's best if he doesn't seek a spouse who might indeed make him miserable and interrupt his predictable solitude, but does that jive with the Church's emphasis on finding a particular vocation in which to live out the universal vocation to holiness? The natural end of the human person is marriage, and while some forgo that for the Kingdom, it's usually as priests, religious, or consecrated virgins/celibates, not men who like their empty apartments and don't want to bother with the complications of women.

I don't know if that makes sense or not....

Are Confirmed Bachelors Allowed?

Well, I wrote a reply to this (several, actually), but I am not happy with them, so I will ask the Eavesdroppers to reply. 

It's the last day of the month, and that's a good day for Eavesdroppers to drop in. (Eavesdroppers, in case you are new, means men. Men, especially the ones I go to Mass with, aren't supposed to read my blog, but a lot of them do anyway because men love to do stuff women tell them not to do. Wickedly, some of them will read this post but then not comment just because I asked them to.) 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Wondering About Guys from Other Cultures

Dear Auntie Seraphic

Do you know what advice to give women contemplating relationships with men from other countries and cultures? Obviously, there might be a language barrier to contend with, but I'm wondering if there might be other things to consider.  

Wondering about Guys from Other Cultures

Dear Wondering,

I am married to a man from a different country and culture, and although I rolled my eyes around after a priest told us (a Scot and a Canadian of mixed, but largely Scottish, background) we might experience serious cultural difference, he was to a certain extent correct. 

The most important things to consider when contemplating romance with a man not of your culture are whether he or his family are racist against your ethnic group and/or nationality, his culture's attitude towards women and his culture's attitude toward marriage. The only way you can find these things out is to read up on the subject, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open, and ask.

What many women who are brought up to be anti-racist don't understand is that most other people in the world are NOT brought up to be anti-racist. (Asia and Africa are intensely racist continents.) Possibly the vast majority of men in the world find women of other races and cultures sexual curiosities, either to be used or to be ignored, but certainly not to be brought home to mom and dad. Of course, a minority of men are the exception to this, and indeed a man of mixed heritage may certainly be drawn to a woman of his mother's ethnic group.

If you are a white American with a mixed, Anglo-Saxon or just plumb forgotten ethnic background, you have to be wary of those individuals who explicitly blame white Americans for their or their ancestors' suffering, no matter how justified that might be.  (If you have to apologize all the time for stuff you never did, it's not going to be a good relationship.) You have to be strong enough to stand up to people who think they have the right to disrespect you just because you are are a white American who did not share in their (or their ancestors') experience. 
I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

But I should have added to this that if my reader is a white American, she should also examine any notions she may have grown up with about the culture of her suitor/crush object and ponder her family's ideas, too, and whether they all need a good mental clearing-out and restocking.

She should also determine if she is uncomfortable with any real, not imaginary or extinct, aspect of the man's culture. In some cultures, for example, son's wives are directly subordinate to their mothers-in-law; in others, sons' wives are indirectly subordinate. 

She should also admit if she finds him hot just because he is "different" or because women of her culture habitually turn men of his culture into sex objects. There's a reason why the surviving Boston Bomber has a swooning teenage fan club and the Oklahoma Bomber did not. I am sure Edward Said* would have had something to say.

If you are a white girl who found it hilarious that on The Big Bang Theory, Raj's parents threatened to disown him if he kept dating a white girl, you have never dated a South Asian guy. And I once knew a heartbroken divorced WASP whose parents walked out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding because of its portrayal of a WASP groom's parents. And there is a saying (and song) "Shiksas are for practice" which is supposed to be hilarious but isn't if you're Catholic and grew up where I did. 

Seraphic's Dad: You should marry a dentist.

Seraphic (saying the unsayable after 20 years): You always say that, and yet we live at X and Y. 

On the other hand, I also know a variety of immigrants who suffered from nasty names and stereotypes when they emigrated to the USA and Canada, even as late as the 1990s. This experience has left some of them protective of their primary ethnic identity and a few very resentful of anyone who reminds them of their petty persecutors. Meanwhile, there are any number of people who hold it as a primary value to marry someone of their own ethnic group, in part because of the history of that group. As I've mentioned before, I was once quietly and tastefully discouraged by a handsome Armenian who quite frankly said he needed to marry another Armenian. Well, having grown up at X and Y, I totally understood the concept. And knowing how difficult mixed marriages can be, I respect it, too.

Racism and racist sexism are real. However, profound cultural differences are real, too. If you don't like your boyfriend's mother, and she doesn't like you, but she and your boyfriend are from a culture where wives are subordinate to mothers-in-law, it would not be a good idea to marry your boyfriend. Or, if your boyfriend comes from a culture where language trumps every other consideration (e.g. French-Canadian), it might be a very good idea to learn that language as well as you possibly can.

Update: For the record, Scotland constantly surprises me, and I am glad I didn't have many preconceived notions of Scotland because I feel a sense of loss every time one gets overturned. For example, Scottish republicanism blows my mind because my 75% Scottish mother is a monarchist and Scottish-Canadians of the 20th century were all very rah-rah King and Empire. Fortunately, my husband is not a republican. But he is definitely not Canadian either.

*By the way, I do not take Said's ideas without a spoonful of salt. The Ottoman Empire was very nasty and imperialist, as is Wahaabism today, and in a Turkish restaurant in Edinburgh, Calvinist Cath and I discovered a painting celebrating the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in which the slain Christians were depicted as apes. Don't talk to me about "otherness", Edward, unless you are willing to admit it cuts both ways.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Boys Bludgeoned into Making Dates By Their Friends' Moms

I'm having difficulty rewriting an Auntie Seraphic letter in such a way as to protect the innocent, so I'll just give you the story.

Mary (not her real name) is going to Bigtown, and her mother's friend Anne (not her real name) says something like, "Oh, you should meet Joe (not his real name), my son's friend. He's living there currently and he's such a good guy, a real NCB. You should meet up. I'll give him your phone number"

Mary quite naturally thinks that it would be nice to meet a real NCB in Bigtown, so she hands over her phone number. She is taken aback when Anne tells her Mom, who tells her, that Anne said Joe was such a good guy, he was thinking of becoming a priest. However, Mary figures she and Joe could still hang out, if Joe bothered to call her, which she now doubted he would do. 

Mary wisely forgets all about it.  Not so, Anne. After Mary has been in Bigtown for awhile, she gets a call from Joe who says, "Hi, Mary. Anne gave me your number. She told me to contact you, so I'm contacting you. Do you want to get coffee sometime? I'll be leaving Bigtown at the end of the week."

Mary is so pleased Joe has the guts to phone a stranger instead of  texting her that I'm wondering if our standards for male courage have fallen that low. They decide to meet that evening, and have a great chat. She asks him what he wants to do after college, and he says, "Help people." He doesn't say "Become a priest," as Mary thinks a Discerner would. (Ha!) It occurs to her that this feels more like a blind date than anything else.  However, that little thought gets nipped in the bud when she says "See you later" to Mr Joseph Leaving At the End of the Week, Esq., and he says, "Well, probably not, actually."

Fair enough. Mary's okay with that. But that very same night Joe sends her a text (no brave phone call this time) to ask if she'll be free two days later.

Mary says she is free two days later, so they meet again. They have a great time. Joe walks her home. They hug. Joe leaves. Mary texts Joe soon after to thank him for a great time. Joe texts back that he had a great time too. She texts it's a pity they didn't meet sooner. Joe texts back he'd really like to hang out with her more. "Me too," texts Mary. Text, text, text, and then they text goodnight. 

Since then they've exchanged a few texts "but nothing much." And so Mary emails your Auntie S to ask what I think. And what I think is that we ladies of 39++ can be a meddlesome bunch. Who calls up a young male acquaintance and says, "You should call this girl, she's so nice! Call her. CALL HER!"? 

Actually, I think I did something like that once or twice. But what I said was, "You could have gone out with X if you had just asked her to dinner" and "Why did you not make more of an effort to talk to that cute guy I introduced you to?"  I'm more of the post-possibility eye-rolling type. But oh dear. How humiliating. This on-the-spot examination of conscience has turned up evidence that I, too, am a meddlesome 39++ lady. Wah. Mea culpa. Generally I try to sit on my opinion until asked for it, but I too am weak. Blah.

Meanwhile, obviously that first date was not a date. It was a way of pacifying Meddlesome Anne. The second date, however, was a date. And what did Joe think he was doing, making a date with a NCG when he was just about to leave Bigtown forever?     

I don't know. But I do know that Joe did want to see Mary again. And that Mary made it easy for him, by being free the very night he proposed they meet--two days later. And that Joe was not slated to leave for another three days after that, so he could have texted, "This may sound crazy, but listen. How about Saturday? Or Friday? Or Sunday-for-Mass-and-brunch? I promise I'm not a weirdo." But he did not. Why not?

I don't know that either. I wonder if Joe does. And I wonder if Joe is a Discerner because, although you starry-eyed romantic types may have forgotten this detail, Anne told Mary's Mom that she thought Joe was thinking of becoming a priest. And this is such a red flag, Mary should have waved it at Joe on (Non-)Date 1. "Isn't Anne great? Such a character. By the way, she told my mom you're thinking of becoming a priest." Then a flaming-faced Joe would have had to admit it, and not be tempted to ask her out later.  (Here's my most famous post on Discerners.) 

My overall opinion is that Mary was very level-headed about everything until Joe asked her out on his own steam and not at gunpoint. She answered his text right away instead of letting him sweat until the next day, which would have created anticipation rewarded with relief. She said yes to a Xday date on Xday, which is somewhat understandable as he was leaving Saturday or Sunday, but she could have delayed it a bit, with the polite equivalent to "Oh I am so busy and in demand as so many other people are interested in me and I have an amazing interesting high-status life anyone would want a piece of." And most definitely she did not need to text him first and immediately afterwards. 

Girls should never text a man first after a date. Argh! 

I am not saying Mary turned off Joe in any way. Obviously he was smart enough to see on their non-date how cool she is, for he asked her out on a real date. However, as Joe's career plans are so vague, I am wondering if Joe himself is not rather vague, open to this possibility and that, without wanting to make firm decisions on anything.  And because she said "yes" to a real date with a guy she was unlikely to see again for a very long time, Mary opened herself to the possibility of hurt.  

The thing about guys and long distance is if a guy is crazy enough about a girl, he will do long distance--or do anything to bridge that distance. I get sad and angry letters from girls who were told by their erstwhile admirers that they don't do long distance, only to discover later that the admirers have met girls while on vacation in Europe and are now moving to Europe.  

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Catriona's Debut

Well, this is a happy day for me. I have seen the revised cover for my novel Ceremony of Innocence, and it is great. It gets across so much! Meanwhile, the book is coming out in September. I'm terribly sorry for the delay, all you people who pre-ordered and wondering where it is.

As you can see on, there are blurbs by my fellow Canadians Michael Coren (Why Catholics are Right) and Richard Greene (Edith Sitwell: Avante Garde Poet, British Genius), by rising star Fiorella Maria Nash and elder statesman Piers Paul Read.

Piers Paul Read, people.  I really hoped Ignatius would send him my book and they did.

Meanwhile, I am terribly pleased by all the blurbs, and I am thinking, "If they all came to dinner, what an amazing dinner party that would be!"

Once again, I feel I should mention that this is going to be a controversial book and not okay for Sunday School. Brilliant for Book Club and Theology on Tap and anywhere brainy young Catholic adults congregate to chatter, but not for les petits enfants.

Update: Here's a great article by Piers Paul Read about being a Catholic author. His Death of a Pope was published by Ignatius Press because it was deemed "too Catholic" by his agent for British publishers.

That said, I don't want any of you  Catholic artists getting bogged down with "I'll never get anywhere because I'm a Catholic"-type thinking. That is not true. You just have to keep doing your thing and trying and failing and trying and failing and trying and failing again. Basically, you cannot give up because, unlike falling in love and getting married, learning your craft and getting it out there is something that does indeed depend entirely on you.

Oh, and you must be careful not to write Catholic propaganda. I know it is a terrific temptation, but really you must write as though everybody is Catholic and you don't need to convert anyone. We anglophones are at a disadvantage because we are a minority. Imagine how nice it would be to be a Polish writer (or painter, et alia): they just assume 90% of their readers are Catholics, so there is no temptation to explain or to make their church-going characters all so incredibly good.

Sudden Rant Towards Moronic Sexist Headlines

The Duchess of Cambridge, whom the media prefers to call "Kate", as if she were a child personally known to them, not a 31 year old woman and mother of one, did not "show off" her "baby belly." She gave birth and--holy Toledo!--her stomach did not return to its pre-pregnancy flatness by the next day.

I get so angry when the media prints photographs of women looking the way it is normal for women to look, or wearing the kind of clothes it is normal for women to wear, with text claiming that the women are "showing off" in some way.

It makes be particularly angry when the women are said to be "showing off their baby bump." Actually, no. The women just HAVE "baby bumps." It is not the 19th century; pregnant women do not modestly hide themselves at home so that no one has to see for their own eyes that they had have sex. Most women do not cover their abdomens with handbags 24/7.

And it makes me very angry that the media talks about women "showing off" as though it were echoing the Taliban. Women simply ARE, and having bodies is a prerequisite of being human. Unless we are pulling up, or pulling down, pieces of clothing while shouting "Looky here," we are not showing off our bodies. Showing off our bodies is not the same thing as having them.  

Is there any way to disable "Yahoo News" so  I can check my email without having to read their STUPID, IQ-reducing headlines?

It's Better to Love a Good Man than a Bad

Apropos of yesterday's letter about passion--oh dear, the Romantics, so irresponsible, so damaging to the lives of the simple, poor and generally unprotected--I thought I would riff on reason.

A lot of us are in love with love. I want to say "especially when we are young" but I have to admit that I was in love with love long after I felt I was too old for World Youth Day.

There are many problems with being in love with love. First of all, we think of love as a feeling when love is actually an act of will, governed by reason, helped along by feeling. It is very dangerous to invest so much of ourselves in a feeling because feelings, although strong, are erratic. They are laughably influenced by brain chemistry. Second, we may use men as a means to an end, sources of "love", rather than getting to know them as actual people just as complex as ourselves.  Third, this leads to ignoring all kinds of inconvenient truths about individual men because too much meditation on those inconvenient truths might kill our love-buzz.

Thomas Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologiae about properly ordered love. If you are of a romantic cast of mind, I recommend reading the whole section on Charity, because it will interest you and yet blow your mind. Love, for Thomas, is totally rational, and he ponders such questions as to whether you ought to love your father more than your mother, or your spouse more than your parents. And he thinks you ought to love people not just according to natural law but insofar as they are good. In fact, Thomas seems to work himself into a corner when he ponders whether or not you should love your family more than the saints. (If I remember correctly, he encourages you to pray that your family become saints.)

Hang onto this idea about loving people because they are good while I say something about the French.

The French--France French, not Canadian French--have a reputation for romantic love. But at the same time, they are extremely serious about marriage as something quite apart from romantic love. Honestly, French romantic love is HERE, and French marriage is THERE, which is probably why the French, secular and Catholic, have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to protest the current assault against traditional marriage. Romance is fun. Marriage is serious.

The French have a number of awesome proverbs about romantic love. My current favourite, as I am studying Polish, is "L'amour sans jalousie, c'est comme un polonais sans moustache." Ah ha ha! But a more telling one is "L'amour dure trois ans," which is what the French say (or said) to remind themselves not to go crazy in their choice of a spouse, since a spouse dure á mort and determines your social standing. To paraphrase a French character in a Nancy Mitford novel, "Two years of completely blissful happiness do not compensate for a lifetime at the wrong end of the [dinner party] table." *

Nor would it compensate for a lifetime with a man who is so crashingly boring or nasty that your friends stop inviting him to parties or even drop you because they can't take the pain of seeing wonderful you with such a character. But the interesting thing is that women fall madly in love with crashingly boring or nasty men all the time and insist upon marrying them, and the scales fall from their eyes only later.

Classical Catholic anthropology places the flourishing of human beings in properly ordered reason. It divides the human mind into intellect, will, passions and connations. (Feeling like a goose walked over your grave is a connation.) Your intellect is supposed to inform your will, and most definitely be in charge of your passions and connations. Intellect and will work together like a king and queen (or queen and prince consort), and the passions are their trusty courtiers, adding dash and panache to their royal lives. For the passions to be in charge is all wrong.

Now, I am a westerner, so of course I think romantic passion is necessary to marriage, especially the beginning. However, I think even romantic passion should be ruled by King Intellect (or Queen Intellect) and Queen Will (or Prince Will, no pun intended). Because if you fall in love willy-nilly, and end up marrying some guy just because he turns your knees to water, in three years you may find yourself, to your great surprise and disappointment, married to the Wrong Man. Except he's not the Wrong Man, if you are sacramentally married to him. Unless the Church says otherwise, he's your man, and you're stuck with him--to pray for and be faithful to, if you really can't live with him.

But the thing is, if you marry a man not just because he turns your knees to water, but because you sincerely admire him--and your friends and family get why you admire him, and perhaps they greatly admire him, too--in three years, when your brain is defogged of irrational passion, you think, "Hey! This is great! I am married to this great guy. Okay, he's not perfect, but I have to admit, I really respect the dude. He's smart. He's hardworking. He's funny. He's [X] with the kids. He looks great in a suit. I can take him anywhere--well, almost anywhere, maybe not to Aunt Martha's place--and feel proud, plus have a pretty decent chat about it afterwards."

This state of affairs is not an accident. It is not something beyond your control. It depends on your faith in your reason and learning to love men not because they are handsome, dashing, the life of the party, a sexy rebel, etc.,  but because they are good.

*Mitford fans will be delighted to know that the sort of ancestor-conscious, society-worshiping, place-in-the-country Frenchmen and Frenchwomen Nancy wrote into her novels still exist.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Auntie Seraphic & the Reader Who Dreams of Happiness in Marriage

Poppets! Never forget that I am not an expert on marriage. I am rather more well-known for having been Single for a long time and not having forgotten what it's like. I'm kind of new on marriage stuff. Meanwhile, I can't just write whatever I think about marriage because (A) if I write that it is absolute bliss, I risk rubbing my Single readers noses in it and (B) if I write that I want to wallop my husband with a frying pan, he (and his friends) will read it and feel sad.

MEANWHILE, whenever I write about how fabulous female friendships are, and how girls rule, and how life is not worth living without female companionship, consider that I live four thousand miles away from most of my female friends and relations. I work from home, and I go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass which is, incidentally, where all the boys are. I have no children. My only pet is a basil plant named Paweł, and he's looking rather peaky.

ALSO, I have been married for 4.5 years, and therefore see marriage rather differently than Single readers, or readers who have been married for 6 months, or readers who have been married for 45 years, or Alice von Hildebrand and other widows.

You must keep all these things in mind, and if you ever feel really lousy after reading one of my posts, I recommend snorting, "Ah! What does she know?" and finding a cute kitten video at once.

Dear Auntie Seraphic, 

Thank you for running this blog. It has a lot of good advice. This email originally started out as a comment, but once I realized that it was turning into a depressing monologue, I decided to Ctrl + C and post it into a good old-fashioned e-mail. :-)

May I say that I become increasingly sad (I am usually sad to begin with) whenever I read one of your posts on men & women, ESPECIALLY in marriage?

Frankly speaking, I have never witnessed a happy marriage. However, the little fairy-tale loving section of my soul just will not die, and I continue to hope that there IS such a thing as a happy, passionate, understanding marriage. 

I don't think you *intend* to do this, but you are slowly but surely convincing me that there is not such a thing.  To clarify, I know that love is not the way it's portrayed in Taylor Swift songs. I know that emotions come and go.  But you have shown me that: The passionate feelings experienced within the first couple years of a relationship will go away - and not come back.  A man will never understand you. This one BREAKS. MY. HEART. As an emotionally abandoned/abused child, all I've ever wanted in my life is to be understood. Also, I watched my parents "misunderstand" each other for 25 years. 

I do not know what to think. I am so sad. :-(

Reader Who Dreams of Happiness in Marriage

Dear Reader Who Dreams of Happiness in Marriage,

Don't be sad. Well, you can be sad, but there is no real NEED to be sad. The complete and total joyful understanding that you long for is available. 

The thing is, it comes from God. Your heart will be restless until it rests in Him, i.e. after you die. [Actually, some saints manage to be perfectly content with Him in this life, too.]

A good husband is a wonderful creature and a very great gift from God, but at the end of the day he is just another fallible human being and no husband (or wife) can fill the God-shaped hole in any human heart. Still, there's a reason we use "husband" as an analogy for God and "bride" as the analogy for Church, although I have to admit that these are problematic from a woman's point of view. (It helps that male mystics talk about even their souls being female.)

There are happy marriages, indeed! And as for understanding, understanding is built over time. But this understanding is not just "a feeling"or an understanding of a spouse's good points, but a deep understanding of his or her faults, too, and ultimately a coming to peace with the faults, or a noticing that the faults have gone away with work or time. Honestly, this takes TIME [and patience, humility, courage, patience, humility and courage. And patience. Also humility. And patience.]

As for "passion", the honeymoon craziness does wear off, but it flares up here and there, and anyway, it usually [with God's Grace, I should have said] leaves behind a kind of spiritual glue. The spiritual glue gets stronger and stronger. I think the reason why sometimes widows or widowers just turn over and die a week or so after their spouses die is this spiritual glue. Don't think this spiritual glue is less important than "passion." No way, Hosea. 

Meanwhile, if B.A. still acted and felt the way he did when we were engaged, he would probably starve to death: every time I went away on a trip, he would stop eating. And every time I went on a trip, I would cry and live for his phone calls and get nose bleeds, etc. Although that may sound romantic, eight months [actually, two years] of that was really enough. 

Crying for the passion of the early years of a marriage is like crying because it is June, not the first gloriously sunny day in April. For everything there is a season, even the passion of newlyweds. And in fact it is dangerous to think that passion is the be-all and end-all of a happy marriage because people who do tend to get divorced or run around until they realize that it is not. It is necessary to kick-start a marriage (a western marriage, anyway), including the sexual side of marriage, which continues with enjoyment, good-will and jokes, even if without the breathless passion everyone writes about in songs.  

I hope this is helpful. I like marriage very much, and I love my husband very much. I still think he is the perfect man for me, although I know that he is not perfect, and he most definitely knows I am not perfect either. If I sound rather more cranky than I should about the inadequacy of men to be more than just "a part of this complete breakfast", it may be because most of my female friends and relations are far, far away most of the time. 

Grace and peace,

I hope I got across the "spiritual glue" part. Passion is like a basil plant; it springs up and it dies (and you can get more). But love is like in the Song of Solomon: "strong as death." That's the spiritual glue.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Man is Not a Substitute for All Women

Last night I watched a made-for-TV movie called Housewife, 49. It was sweet but predictable. A plump, ground-down middle-aged married woman with a grouchy carpenter husband is recruited in the early days of the Second World War to the Women's Volunteer Services, even though her husband tells her she won't fit in. And indeed at first she does not, because the other women are all madly middle-class, and one or two are snooty, but then the most patriotic social maven takes her under her wing, and our heroine feels she can ignore both her disapproving husband and the the norms of the class system.

So at 49 she begins to blossom and when the Germans bomb the Lake District and her grey-moustached husband admits, from the uncertain shelter of their Morrison (which turns out to be a big cage you set up in your house), that she is "everything" to him, she looks as bored and irritated as you can look when Jerry is dropping jolly big bombs on you.

In short, the happier Housewife, 49 gets, and the more she enjoys the company of her women friends, the more contemptuous she is of her husband. (I have to admit, I didn't much fancy him myself.) There's a sense that she is feeling rather a cut above him, now that... Hmm, now I see why he told her she wouldn't fit in. It might have been because he was afraid she would.

I don't think this sent a good message to the men of Britain, so I hope they didn't watch it. Frankly, I was quite relieved that Housewife didn't leave her husband. Almost completely demoralized, the poor old ex-king of his bombed working-class castle says he hopes she'll continue "to put up with" him. She says, "Well, why not? You have to put up with me." A very good point. All the same, it's quite clear that she doesn't realize that men are scarce and many a war widow wouldn't scoff at a nice carpenter with a home of his own, even if he had to pay alimony to his social-climbing frump of a first wife.

Oooh la la. That is not 1945 thinking! Is even Auntie Seraphic a product of post-1963 decadence? No doubt. Because divorce is just too easy these days, and therefore you must not be  contemptuous of your husband, if you have one and want to keep him. Possibly you can be rude occasionally if you apologize within a reasonable time frame. But you may not be contemptuous.

One way not to be contemptuous of your husband or, indeed, of any man whose company you enjoy, is not to think he is a substitute for all women friends. Demanding that your husband be both a man and a woman is really too much. You can remind him that you yourself are not a man and therefore should not be expected to deny your feminine genius (e.g. crying when there's something worth crying about), but you cannot expect him to be a genius at listening and commiserating the way women are. You can ask him to try, of course, but you cannot expect him to be just like your female friends.  

I think this follows for boyfriend and other men friends, too. And this is why it is such a good idea, among other reasons, not to neglect your female pals when you fall in love or "start a [romantic] relationship" with a man. You'll need them.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Any Guy is Not Better Than No Guy

I still don't have internet at home, so I have to pack all internet business into a few hours in the center of town.  This doesn't make for deep and reflective thought, or easy cutting-and-pasting of letters and responses. The tables are too high for comfortable typing. Grump, grump, grump.

But I wanted to talk about an email I got from a depressed young woman in that transitional phase between college graduation and a decent job--mine (in 1995) was simply ghastly--who wanted to know if she should go for coffee with a young man again.

I suspect this young man is conventionally good-looking, for she said he was attractive. However he regaled my reader with his negative thoughts about people who don't think just like him about gay rights and women's issues and admitted to not understanding why people convert to Catholicism. (My reader did not say he asked her, a Catholic, for a serious explanation of this. His remark seems to have been based in wonder at the stupidity of mankind) In short, he revealed through his preoccupations that he was not a good match for my Catholic reader.

It's not that he was a Lefty, in my opinion. It's that he was an unthinking and unimaginative Lefty, the kind that assumes all attractive women are Lefties because they are women and attractive. The kind of Lefty who is as narrow-minded as he thinks Righties are. Naturally, my own Lefty friends are rather broad-minded, or they wouldn't be friends with madly retro me.

But what really put the cherry on the cake of my feeling that this boy was All Wrong for my reader, was that he made a crack about her having to go home from their "hanging-out" because she had a curfew. (Yeah, nothing says "male feminist super-hero" like a guy pretending a grown woman is in high school.)

Meanwhile, my reader, who nevertheless finds the man attractive, asked if she should see him again. And I said, "No."

When you're depressed, you like a bit of excitement, even if it is negative excitement. The idea of going out with a guy who says unpleasant stuff but is nevertheless sexually attractive is mighty tempting. We hear "opposites attract," and when watching movies, we enjoy the friction between male and female enemies in the films and their struggle to maintain loyal to their ideals or their friends or their families in the face of overwhelming sexual attraction to guy/girls who might not be so bad.

And, no, sometimes the guys might not be so bad (sometimes they may be really bad ), but they may be bad FOR YOU. Cracks about how babyish you are for being a Nice Catholic Girl are among the biggest and reddest big red flags there are.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Most Dignified Thought Ever

"Why," I mused on the bus to the Scottish Poetry Library, "would I ever be interested in a man who did not show much interest in me?"

You may think this a moot point for a married lady, but actually this morning I had one of those funny surreal dreams in which this sort of thing is an issue.

As I watched B.A. crawl around the floor trying to make our British Telecom "home hub" work, I felt sorry for him until I remembered that he loves challenges like that. It's one of the many Unabashed Generalizations you can find throughout my blog: men love challenges.

I suppose women love challenges, too. I am learning Polish after all. But when it comes to matters of the heart, there comes a point where you realize that for the sake of your dignity, you must call it quits. When climbing Everest, there is no shame in realizing that if you keep climbing, you will die, and therefore it is time to return to base camp. Better to realize that and quit than to die of asphyxiation. No, seriously. Many people start to climb Everest and when they cannot get to the top, it is not their "fault." It is just how it is. It could be the weather. It could be genetics. Climbing Everest is a bit of a lottery.

Anyway, I was thinking that when young men are interested in women, they usually do something to make the women notice them. They brag about something they are good at, or they show off their dance moves. I don't think older men do this as much because--a theory here--they can already tell if particular women like them or not. They are better at reading faces and body language.

As a young woman, I was very unobservant, so I couldn't tell when young men were interested in me. This led me to think they weren't when indeed they were and other people could tell. But even worse, I couldn't tell when young men weren't interested in me. I just hung around my crush objects, daydreaming and hoping for the best. Maybe I could win their love by my obviously first-class (except for the math dyslexia) brain and sparky spirit. Alas!

I think men like women who are challenges, which is to say, I think men like women who don't look desperate for love, or sex, or a drink, or heroin, and would only ever pay attention to a guy they thought was great. Being chosen by such a woman would be flattering.

However, I must say that if I were a widow, I would be interested only in men who were obviously interested in me already--interested in the point of showing off their skillz and inviting me to the opera. I just don't think I could ever go back to hanging around crush objects and daydreaming. Goodness, I hope not.

Lightning Strikes!

This morning we had a very short but very violent storm. There were some tremendous crackles and bangs, and then the lights went out and the fire alarm began to shriek.

When the fire alarm stopped shrieking, I fixed the blown fuse, but discovered that our British Telecom "home hub" had ceased to work. As a result, there is no internet connection in the Historical House, and here I am in the delightful temple to art and silence, the Scottish Poetry Library.  

I don't expect internet at home for the next three to five days, so blogging and answering emails may be sporadic.

Monday, 22 July 2013


I keep erasing and rewriting today's post. Mostly I want to get across the notion that you should avoid men who try to make you feel bad for being "privileged." Given that most people in history, in every country, have been dead poor, ruled over by a very small number of comparatively very rich people, you probably have whatever "privilege" you have because you, your parents or some high-minded person won it for you. For example, Western "privilege" is actually rather new.

The answer to why the literacy level in Scotland is so much higher than it is in, say, Bangladesh, is not "British colonialism" but a number of high-minded Scots who, three hundred years ago, thought all Scots, not just a few, should be able to read the Bible. And, as a matter of fact, the average Scottish worker could not afford  luxuries (such as a foreign holiday) until the sun set on the British Empire. British colonialism was tickety-boo for the ruling classes, but not so great for the Scottish bairns from just up the road who died of malnutrition in 1900, ken? The money didn't trickle down quite as much as people now pretend. 

The biggest earthly privilege any woman can have, I think, is to grow up in a family with a mum and dad who liked each other enough to stay together and model what a happy marriage looks like. Such a woman has this privilege not because of magic or Western colonialism or an unfair deity but because her parents consistently said "No" to anything that would hurt their marriage or their family, even if it was something really, really, desirable. They made sacrifices they were happy to make, but not at the cost of some guy trying to guilt their daughter into something by saying "Oh, you come from a happy family, do you? You're so privileged."

(Update: My inevitable mental response to just about any guy over 16 and under 60 who talked to me about my privilege would be, "You could bench 300 lbs if you worked at it long enough, and learn to beat the snot out of almost anyone who attacked you. You're so privileged." Meanwhile, new readers shouldn't get me wrong. I like men--most men. That is, most men I meet.)

Oh dear, I feel like erasing all this a third time, so I won't. I'm in a cranky mood and so not of much use to anyone, I fear. I'm all punchy and political. Maybe I should have some lunch.

Update 2: I had an interesting email from an American eavesdropper that reminded me that I should remind Americans that I am not an American, and this is not an American blog.  I'm a Canadian, I live in the UK, and as a Canadian who lives in the UK, I am according to my "Living in the UK" textbook, an ethnic minority. Given that all of my mother's grandparents were born in the UK of English and Scottish heritage, and that my dad is descended from northern Europeans, I think that's hilarious.

But I am told over and over again how lucky I am to be exempted, by my foreign accent, from the British class system. It's probably not nice to say so, but I suspect this exemption gets cancelled the second my husband speaks.

Update 3: Suddenly I am reminded again of this phone conversation in Boston

Seraphic: Actually, I'm a foreign student.

Boston Fundraiser on Phone (suspiciously): You speak English real good for a foreign student.

Seraphic: Yes, I do. I do speak English very well. So what kind of foreign student might I be?

Boston Fundraiser: English?

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Clutching Your Handbag in an Elevator is Not a Hate Crime

I live in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom used to be something like 99.99% people of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish descent. Of course, over the centuries following the Norman Conquest (1066) sailors, soldiers, servants (or slaves), traders and refugees of other ethnic groups would either breeze through or settle, but that was in small numbers. About 40, 000 French Huguenots (Protestants) settled in the UK over a period of two hundred years. And the small, London-based community of Jews was so augmented by Central and Eastern European Jews over the nineteenth century that there were about 250,000 by 1900. That was a significant change from the 20-25,000 Jews in 1800, but this can be explained by massive persecution of European Jewry in the 19th century.

I mention this because when I wrote my "Living in the UK" test, the study guide was very keen that I think of the United Kingdom as a nation of immigrants (like me). But as a matter of fact, until the 20th century, people migrated to the UK in such small numbers, or over such a long period of time, that it was easy for them (or, at any rate, their UK-born children) to blend in and become English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish.. Arguably it was tougher for the Jews, but many of them became absolutely establishment figures, some having become Christians (like Prime Minister Disraeli), but others not (like Lord Rothschild).

Still, there was a lot of anti-Jewish feeling in the UK even before more Central European Jewish refugees turned up in the 1930s, and I suspect this had as much to do with their comparatively large numbers as with plain old anti-Semitism. A good book about this is George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. Nowadays a London Jew is as English and as stereotypically "London" as the Tower or a pearly king strutting about.  There are 263, 346 Jews listed on the 2011 census. (Gracious! What a small rise since 1900.)

In contrast, there are 1,200,000 Pakistanis in the UK today, and 521,000 Poles who were actually born in Poland. There were 15,000 Pakistanis in the UK in 1951, and about 162, 339 Poles. Many of these Poles had British-born children who are so indistinguishable from the rest of what is now called the "white British" population, that the claims of the Scot who yelled at me for speaking Polish  that he had a Polish ancestor were not risible.

Ah, you had to have been there. There I was in the local polski sklep, flirting with the nice Polish shopkeeper behind the counter, and a young man who was rather drunk for that hour of the afternoon, popped in and shouted, "You're in Scotland--speak English!"

We turned and stared. I felt rather protective of the Polish shopkeeper, which was stupid, as the Polish shopkeeper was bigger than the drunken youth. Really, the person in most danger of violence from the drunken youth was little me if I talked back. So I didn't talk back. Instead the youth went on about how he was not racist, and had a Polish ancestor, and he eventually admitted he was drunk and took himself off. And, frankly, he seemed to me almost as much a victim of history as a modern-day Mohawk Indian sitting on the corner of Toronto's Bathurst and Queen Streets yelling at "white people."

Which brings me to my next point, which is that post-1950 mass migration has exacerbated old and invented new ethnic and racial tensions in the UK. Migrants come to the UK, and sometimes we are homesick or disillusioned, and sometimes we resent the native population, either because they resent us or because we find their social habits disgusting or amusingly stupid.* Rather in the way some horrible white men in western Canada have exploited and hurt First Nations girls, a newsworthy number of Pakistani and other Muslim men have exploited and hurt "white British" girls. Don't get me started on my inner ideological warfare whenever I look for a cab.

The UK is now in a rather US-like situation when it comes to race, only here "race" means "ethnicity" or even "country of origin" and if some drunken Scotswoman called me a "Canadian cow" I could conceivably report this to the police and they would have to take it seriously. If I ever shoot a German national, I may have to prove in court it was not because he was a German national.

Which brings me to the Zimmerman case, not that Zimmerman is a German national. First of all, he is an American, and second, he apparently self-identifies as Hispanic. His mother was born in Peru, and as far as I know what Peruvian looks like, George Zimmerman looks Peruvian to me. I bet he looks Peruvian to my average American reader because I lived in the USA and I think only apartheid-era South Africa could have been as obsessed with race as the USA. Of course, in Toronto, too, the worst thing you can call someone is a "racist." You can get a lot of power over someone if you can prove he or she is a "racist."

But this is not power like the power in your right arm or, to get to my central point, the right arm of a man who wants to hurt you or steal something from you. When I was in the Polish deli, I may have had a lot of "social privilege", being English-speaking, well-educated and even reasonably well-connected, but I was the weakest person there. The strongest person there, despite being a recent immigrant, was the big Polish shopkeeper. Had the drunken Scottish kid started smashing stuff or me, the Polish immigrant would have jumped over the counter and squashed him. So much for all my social privilege.

The President of the United States identifies as an African-American, and was televised last night speaking with sadness of how often people fear young African-American men. And I can see how this is sad. I would be sad if every time I got on an elevator and everyone smaller and/or weaker than me took a firmer hold of their purse. But it would be sad, not scary. It would not be a patch on the terror of a woman who is afraid, for whatever reason, that a man might hurt her or take her purse away.

In short, I say once again that, when it comes to the politics of victimhood, woman trumps race. Whatever you think of the George Zimmerman trial, I hope my young female readers have not imbibed a message that they must ignore their fears or remain in what seems to them a dangerous situation for fear of seeming racist or making President Obama sad. George Zimmerman is a man; what people have to say about him and what he did has nothing to do with your lives as women.

Men have a lot of physical power. Really, they do. And some of them--of any race or ethnicity--are perfectly willing to use it against you, and at the moment a man does, none of whatever "social privilege" you have will be of any use to you. What will count will be your ability to get away or, if you can, enlist the help of those around you.

*I have a serious problem with grown women being reeling drunk in public. Bridget Jones is not as funny now that I know what a British "High Street" is like at closing time. Being "off your face" is not Girl Power; it's Girl Vulnerability to men who despise Girl Drunkenness and take advantage of Girl Weakness. As an educated colonial woman,  I know perfectly well that not all British women go out to clubs to pick up men or to get smashed. Nor do I think a promiscuous or a reeling drunk woman "deserves" ill-treatment (like rape). However, the minicabs and the chip shops of the UK are not staffed entirely with educated, colonial women who have had "No means No" drummed into their heads their whole lives.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Pray for "American Papist"

Father Z has the details.

I'm so shocked. It's always shocking when something sad happens to a Big Catholic Blogger. It's like you know them, and only after searching your memory do you realize you never actually met.

Free Cake

A few of you have sent me the story of the 26 year old Single girl who has been baking cakes and taking them to bars around Los Angeles in a quest to find a husband. Here's her blog. It's subtitled "Attempting to Lure Boys with Sugar", which I find endearing.

It gives me an idea. It's for a dating website for women who want to be housewives.  Normally I hate dating websites because they are ALLLLLL about judging men and women on their looks and spelling, but I would see this as a gift to the women of the world who abhor the marketplace and just want a husband and home to take care of, but are afraid to say so.

I'm talking the women who want to get up at seven to feed the illicit chickens in the shed before before making muffins for the family. The women who actually enjoy doing the laundry and the ironing and the mending. (Mending?) Women who get out there and do the weeding before the sun gets too high and who prefer to dry the sheets out on the line because a dryer would just not replicate that great dried-outdoors smell. Women whose homes smell like lavender and baking and breezes. Women who could run a flat on their grad school husband's measly stipend, and women who could run a house on their blue-collar man's growing zillions. Women whose special joy is making cakes. Women who get that there are groaning millions who dream of staying at home.  Because there are men who want to marry women like that, only they don't know where to find them.

But back to the cake girl.

On the one hand, the cake girl is doing right. She is a Searching Single, so she correctly divines that she has to live in public in order to meet men. You can live in public just by having a popular blog or by writing a column in a newspaper, but the cake girl takes it to the streets or, rather, the bars.

On the other hand, the cake girl is going to bars.

I know women who met their husbands in bars, but those women were the waitresses. The husbands were regulars. The bar was either an extension of the husbands' living-room or the husband came in one day and thought,  "Gosh, this girl is really, really pretty, and conveniently I don't even have to ask her phone number to see her again. I can just come back." These were not men who went to bars to get loaded or have a fling, or to get loaded AND have a fling. Bars are full of men who go to bars with their friends to get loaded or to hunt for flings. They do not go to bars intending to find wives.  At least, I don't think so. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Bars are places of jollity and misrule, and if some zany girl offers you free cake in one, well, that's pretty well in keeping with jollity and misrule. Of course, you are taking a risk by eating food offered by a complete stranger, as a street-person once told me when I tried to offload some day-old muffins on him. But never mind that. If a pretty girl offers you cake, the least you can do is eat it.

On the other hand, cake is not that hard to come by.

Any able-bodied man with an oven, a cake-pan, a bowl, a spoon, butter, sugar, eggs, self-raising flour, and an orange can make a cake. Alternatively, he can go to a bakery and buy one. Of course, a bakery cake might not taste like the cakes his mother used to make because his mother did not make cakes. My mother makes cakes, but my mother was born before the Korean War. The smell of home-baked cakes no longer evokes the memory of a hard-working woman who smelled like lavender, baking and breezes looking fondly at her great-souled, workin'-man husband as he said, "Gosh, Lucinda. This sure is good cake." The smell of home-baked cakes no longer makes a man think, "Ya know, I want a girl who is just like the girl who divorced married Dad." At least, probably not in L.A.

But to go back to the first hand, it's a good excuse to meet people.

But on the other hand again, it's a bad idea to tell complete strangers that handing out cake is your husband-hunting strategy.

If I were the cake girl--and I have a lot of admiration for Cake Girl, and I hope she gets a cookbook contract out of this--I would not give away my cakes for free. I would still take my cakes to bars, but I would raffle them off for a guaranteed crowd-pleasing cause, like the Veteran's Association. This way I would still have an excuse to talk to everyone in the bar, and it would be for a much more noble-sounding cause. A girl in a pretty dress who offers strangers free cake is a zany free spirit, but a girl in a pretty dress who bakes cakes to raise money for wounded soldiers is the female embodiment of America the Beautiful.

To conclude, I don't think creativity, kooky and cake is enough to capture the male imagination. Men respect chutzpah, but they will commit only to character. If I asked, I would recommend that cake girl combine her fun idea with another cause she believes in. "I wanna husband" is not so attractive. "I'm open to meeting great people as I voluntarily--and creatively--raise money for others"--that, if so obvious it need not be said, is attractive.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Auntie Seraphic & the Befuddled Eavesdropper

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

know I'm not supposed to be reading this blog, but having read it, I find that I can relate somewhat easier to NCGs. Your work is wonderful, and I pray it continues.

However, as a single-ish Catholic young man (I've been on a few dates with an NCG, but I get the feeling as if I'm Mr. Emotional Rebound after her rather nasty breakup with her ex-boyfriend, though they're now on speaking terms, so I have no idea where it's going), I notice a distinct lack of advice on the Internet in general for Single Catholic men. 

Truth be told, many NCBs are just as clueless about the issues you elucidate as the girls are (which led to the breakup I mentioned earlier, incidentally). Where would a guy in that situation go as to advice or resources? The want of such seems to be a factor driving them into the hands of the PUAs and all the horrors it entails.

Yours sincerely,
Somewhat Befuddled.

Dear Somewhat Befuddled,

Thank you for your email. You are absolutely right. One of your fellow eavesdroppers, the kind I have to see in person drinking a gin-and-tonic shortly after I write something extremely personal, keeps threatening to start a blog called "Beatific Bachelors." Unfortunately, he is just joking. 

I will post your letter soon. Meanwhile, you may continue sneakily reading my blog for insights in the the feminine psyche and I recommend a blog called "The Art of Manliness." "The Art of Manliness" is pro-family and subtly Christian and not-so-subtly American. However, I know at least one man, not American but from a macho culture, who thoroughly approves and recommends "The Art of Manliness."

Grace and peace, 

Not a particularly adequate answer, I see now. What I should have added is something like, "Tell little Miss Emotional Rebound that you don't want to hear her talk about other men when she's with you." Life is much more exciting and clear when men just speak up about what they want and what they don't want and what they like and what they don't like. 

I'm not saying men should say, "I don't like you in that purple dress." I'm saying that they should feel free to say, "I don't want to hear you talk about other men when you're with me." Such forthright language tips off Emotional Rebound Girls that you're not just a sexless teddy bear she can cry into because Mr Macho was mean.  It suggests a chap is also a kind of Mr Macho, only better. In general, women like manly men who say manly things. Nagging, of course, is something we associate with our mothers and therefore femininity, so don't nag. Just say "I want to see that film. Do you?" and "I'd like to take you to dinner Friday. Okay?" and, especially, "I don't want to hear you talk about other men when you're with me. I want you to think about me."

Personally I think the Beatific Bachelor Blog idea best left to a man, although suddenly I am struck by the idea of starting a mock blog by the same name in which I pretend to be characters based on one or two of my Young Fogey friends, e.g.:


Dear Beatific Bachelors,

My girlfriend makes me take her out to expensive waterfront cafes and then tells me to shut up while she watches the sailors. What should I do?


Continental Fogey: You should slap her.

English Fogey: No, no, no. You cannot slap women in this country, you barbarian.

Continental Fogey: What do you mean? I have a hand. I can slap.

English Fogey: I mean you may not slap women in this country.

Continental Fogey: If I do not slap them, how can I make them behave?

English Fogey: That's what this letter is asking, you troglodyte.

Continental Fogey scowls, looks up troglodyte in the bilingual dictionary on his phone.

Continental Fogey (twisting end of moustache): Humph! It is the same. And that is not very respectful! Chhhuh..... (Puts away phone.) Well, if he cannot slap, he can shout at her.

English Fogey: Maybe he should take the chair facing the sea so she has to take the chair facing the café. That way she couldn't see the sailors. 

Continental Fogey: Faugh! He might as well shoot himself in the head right now!

English Fogey: That's not very helpful. 

The only drawback to this amusing enterprise would be the ever-present threat of lawsuit--which reminds me that I should state for the record that this is an admittedly outrageous caricature and as far as I know not a single one of my friends would ever slap a woman.  These fictional scenes just develop in my head, and I have to write them down or die. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Imaginary Letter from a Polish Tennis Star

Sleep-deprived Moharowy Beret in Training 
A reader asked me to comment on a minor (I hope) Polish scandal, so here it is. No, the tennis star did not actually write to me. Yes, I made up her email. Yes, I'm sorry she was dropped by her group. But, no, I don't think a role model should pose for a cheesy soft porn photo. That said, I am unconvinced she knew that's what she was doing. NCGs often do or say suggestive things because you are so innocent, you have no idea what they look or sound like to other people.

Droga Ciociu Anielska,

A big magazine wants to publish this nude photograph of me in their issue dedicated to nude photos of athletes. They tell me that it is not at all about objectifying women--after all, there are nude photos of male athletes, too--and they want to show inspirational strong women. When they asked me if there was anything I would like to change about my body, I said my serving shoulder. It's really susceptible to injury. It would be so cool to have a bionic arm, you know? That would probably get me disqualified, though.  

That reminds me of my main point which is that I'm worried about how a nude photograph of me will be accepted in Poland. 

As you may know, I am a spokeswoman for a [Polish Catholic Youth Movement], and I have been on television encouraging my fellow Poles not to be ashamed of Our Lord and our Catholic faith. The Westernization of Poland is good in some ways and bad in others, and the last thing I want to do is hurt my people with this Western magazine. Also, I am  aware there is anti-Polonism in other countries. In Israel I was really furious when some of the fans started shouting "Polish sl*t" at me.  
Here is the photograph. I think it is really sweet. They got me to hold a fuzzy tennis ball in each hand, as you can see. 

Polish Tennis Star

Dear Polish Tennis Star,

I can't publish your photograph because of the Eavesdroppers, but I must say that it is obvious that you have a very nice body from an aesthetic point of view. Your muscles are long and lean instead of short and chunky like those of many women athletes. And you seem to have absolutely no hair anywhere on your body below your eyebrows so, speaking as a woman, I am now thinking "Wax or Photoshop?"

I'm sorry to be thinking about what your body looks like before I think about how much trouble you might get into with [Polish Youth Movement], but that is the power of images--especially images of naked women. As I already know many (if not most) young Polish women are tall and slim, all I can think about is whether Polish women really have no body hair, and if Polish Chopin took one look at French Georges Sand when she first got her kit off and said "Blah!"

As I am a traditionalist Catholic woman and yet think such shallow thoughts, perhaps you can now imagine the even shallower thoughts men will have if they see this photograph. Maybe you can't, though, as you are only 24, and your life has been dedicated to tennis, and you are a Nice Catholic Girl who grew up in Poland, currently the nicest, safest country in the whole world for practicing Catholics. So actually I do not look at this photograph and think, "What was she thinking?" but "Where was her mother?"

Agnieszka, PTS, quite obviously you do not know this, but it is very foolish of you to allow yourself to be photographed naked holding two fuzzy tennis balls together like that. Even now I don't want to tell you why because actually your mother or your favourite aunt or your married sister (if you have one) should be the one to tell you.

Beyond the fuzzy tennis ball issue, you should understand that although men take a strange delight in looking at photographs of almost any naked woman, they take a special delight in looking at photographs of women they think they really are not supposed to see naked, especially Girl Next Door types. As a top Polish athlete who exhorts your countrymen not to be ashamed of Our Lord, you are most definitely a Girl Next Door type.

And therefore, PTS, I advise you very firmly, not to allow this magazine to publish this particular photo of you, this one with your hair artfully tousled, and your make-up so heavy, and your posture as if you have been surprised sunbathing nude on that pool chair after getting a Brazilian wax job.

There are probably much more tasteful ways for a magazine to present the athletic female nude.  I myself do not have a problem with female nudes (well, almost nudes) if they are classical in appearance. But there is a big difference between looking like a Greek goddess and looking like a girl in a pin-up calendar at the mechanic's. As you are a role model and spokeswoman for Catholic youth, and, indeed, both a kind of Polish goodwill ambassador and a Catholic missionary, you do need to be careful and make sure people do not take advantage of you. Check with your mother or, better, your most scandalous aunt (if you have one), about any prop a photographer's assistant might hand you.

Grace and peace,

I'm sorry not to link to a news article, but I can't find one without the photo.

Update: Well, I found one in Nasz Dziennik. Hit Google Translate.

Auntie Seraphic & Confused-Clueless II

This is the email I received in response to the answer I posted yesterday, and my response to that. Again, I will end with a few general observations

Dear Auntie Seraphic, 

You are so lovely. Thank you for responding to my msg! You are correct: I am 20 now but was 19 at the time when I was with him. He is 2- now and, yes, I know, we're both young.

Yes, I have gone to confession. That confession was very painful for me, but I needed it. It was freeing. Our faith is so beautiful! But it's been almost a year, and I still haven't forgiven myself, and it just kills me. I look at myself with such disgust sometimes, and I can't help but give in to the tears... 

I completely hear you about not telling my friends every detail about our relationship, and yes I honestly do feel like they treat it as a soap opera! "Oh! What does [C-C] have to say about [Scooter] today". And not really interested in why I'm really confiding in them. I do owe it to him to keep things confidential, but it wasn't my intent at all to betray him, I'm just desperately searching for words of wisdom and guidance.

I like him--a lot--and that's why it's difficult to talk to him as a "friend" when so many times that "friend" line  is crossed in conversation. What I don't understand is how he can so easily forget about the past and pretend that nothing ever happened. It's extremely difficult for me to talk to him and push the thoughts of the past out of my head and focus on just being friends. We rushed things when I was [at my college town], but as he said "we don't have a choice" because we had to see if we could be something together. And if we didn't try then we'd never know.

Telling you what I like about him could go on for quite a while. He is wonderful to his mother, and his relationship with his sister makes my heart melt. He takes her to movies all the time, they're so close and they are X years apart! He protects her and that's so beautiful to me. A man who can honour the special women in his life to me shows that he will do the same for his future wife, hopefully. 

I don't know if it's just the age aspect, or because his relationship with his father isn't very good, but I can't seem to figure out why he's so afraid of commitment. What blows my mind is, who travels to another city that is a 20+ hour drive away to see a "friend" who is a girl? He's been seriously working on trying to come see me, and his effort has surprised me. Does this mean anything? I still feel like he has feelings, but is too afraid to admit it and deal with them.

As you said, would I still look forward to talking to him at parties? I would. I would be very interested to see how he continues to grow in his faith, and what his dreams are, and what he's accomplished. What I love about him is that he has hopes and dreams now, that aspect reminds me of myself. We compliment each other very well, he's a little quiet and I'm crazy and outgoing and love adventure where as he'd rather stay home and relax. But when we were together, he wouldn't say "I don't want to go downtown and explore!" He'd willingly come with me because he knew it would be amazing and it's something he's never experienced before. I opened his eyes to the city he's lived in for years. Which leads me to where he's from. 

He was born in [a poor, non-English-speaking country] and I know that he is worried about what my family's reaction would be if he were to come to see me. Half of my family is [Southern European], and that's the side that he is worried about, even though I don't see [his background] as an issue. My brother [might]. Ah, I just don't know. I shouldn't even be thinking about that, because he is simply not mine. Because we are "friends".

But now I feel a dilemma. I know God has told me that I haven't been patient, so I am trying. Especially right now, when [Scooter] and I haven't talked in X days, which is absolutely mind blowing because we haven't gone a day without talking. I know you're probably laughing but it really drives me nuts! He knows I've been thinking a lot lately. Maybe he's giving me space, or our mutual friend mentioned what was on my mind to him, and he's backed off now. Either way, I am waiting "patiently" for him to msg me... 

But I'm getting anxious because I am leaving for Brazil on Wednesday! For World Youth Day! I'm sure you've heard! :)  But anyway, hmmm I just am not sure if I should even bother to msg him before I leave. I'm really quite shocked that he hasn't msged me yet.

Well, there is another novel for you to read. I won't continue to bug you after this, though, but when I stumbled upon your blog I just thought, "Wow, this woman has lots of wonderful words, maybe she can offer me some advice."

I will seek more advice from the older friend I've been talking to because I really don't feel like there's anyone else who can help me, especially not my mother!

Thank you for listening to me! God bless you!
Confused & Clueless

Dear Confused & Clueless,

One more email from me. If God has forgiven you, and you know He has, for you have felt sincere contrition, made your confession and no doubt done the penance you were assigned, you must forgive yourself. At least, you must stop regretting whatever it was. Perhaps you are mourning your image of yourself as "super-pure." Well, very few human beings have ever been that "super-pure." In this case, what should comfort you is the humility of accepting that you are prone to sexual temptations like anyone else and have given in to some, and then the joy that God has forgiven you and doesn't care about that now. He just cares about you. If you feel that much disgust with yourself, I recommend you speak with a Catholic-positive counsellor or with a priest or nun who works with young people. 

The devil hates us, so he wants us to hate ourselves, too.  Then when we are tired of hating ourselves for our sexual sins, he tells us that it is the Church's fault for lying to us about sexual sin, and we should just get with the program and do whatever we think we want. This is why it is so important for you to let God's forgiveness fall on you like cooling rain on a blazing hot day.

The reason [Scooter] can forget about the past and pretend nothing happened is because he is a guy and guys are different about these things. He has probably been committing the sin of self-abuse since he was 14, so one more minor (as you did not actually have sex) sexual sin is not going to be that big a deal to his psyche. Also, society in general has never cared that much about the minor sexual sins of men. Society shrugs and says, "Well, that's men." It's women who (A) brood (B) have historically been judged harshly. Men often just do not get that women can't just do stuff and then completely forget about it, like they do.  

I don't think your feelings about [Scooter] are laughable at all. I think they are painful and they remind me of when I was 20. But I do encourage you to imagine putting all your hurt and worries in to a big bag and leaving them at the foot of the Cross for our Lord to take care of, while you get ready to go to Brazil. When you come home, it may be different, but right now the important thing is that you concentrate on the excitement of World Youth Day. It would be terrible if, when you are 30, someone asked you how World Youth Day in Brazil was and you said, "It was totally ruined for me because I spent all my time thinking about a guy and crying over him."

So don't message [Scooter] or try to contact him in any way before your trip. It could be that he himself needs time to retreat from all the drama--men often do that; have you ever heard of the "man cave"? Some men thrive on drama, but others get tired of it very swiftly. Meanwhile, what [Scooter] says about coming to see you means nothing. [Scooter] actually at your door means a lot. With men, it's most definitely their actions, not their words, that matter.

But, as I say, [Scooter] doesn't matter right now. Put him in a bag in your mind and put the bag at the foot of the Cross for our Lord to take care of, too! What matters is that you get everything you need together for World Youth Day in Brazil--your Portuguese phrasebook, your passport--and start to feel the excitement of this amazing opportunity in your life.

Grace and peace,

General Observations

1.  "We don't have a choice" is seducer talk, a line straight out of the movies. And there's a kind of man whose interest is sparked by the convenient fact that a woman is going away very soon.  

2.  The sentence "I owe it to him to keep things confidential" makes me uneasy. What I was talking about was preserving someone's modesty and dignity. Women are terribly hurt when the men we kiss make us the subject of locker room talk. Well, it's not nice to make men we kiss the subject of powder room talk, either. As far as I know, all my friends' babies were created through parthenogenesis. They got married or got some boyfriend; they got pregnant. There's some connection there. Hmm...

3. Making out is dangerous for women because it can make us feel more attached to a guy than is at all reasonable. Once upon a time, cavemen just picked cavewomen and dragged them off, and it strikes me that making out might have been nature's way of helping a cavewoman cope with having to have sexual congress with a complete stranger. Many a time women wail to one another, "What does she SEE in him?" Well, it might not be him. It might be the chemicals zipping and zapping around in her brain. 

4.  Guys are different. Guys are different. Guys are different. And they have really short memories regarding things they want to forget, like all those really sweet things they said last week that they honestly sort of believed at the time.   

5. A man can be great to his mother, aunts and sisters and treat all other women like trash. Although a man being nasty to his mother or sister is definitely a red flag, all his being nice to them proves is that he is nice to his mother and sister. Men in many cultures protect their own sisters while scheming to get their hands on other guys' sisters. This is why men have to have a little chat with each other before they court each other's sisters. Otherwise someone sometimes ends up dead.  

6. It's a bad sign when a man tells you he thinks your family's ethnic group is racist. It means he's racist against your family's ethnic group. It's also a convenient excuse for him not to see you. "It's not my fault I don't come to see you. It's your racist family's fault." Race and ethnicity stuff can make dating an even bigger headache, speaking as a mangia-cake maudite-anglais cracker gora dead-ghost Taig from Toronto.  Red flag.

7. Men are very much afraid of commitment to women they don't want to commit to. Occasionally men are also afraid of commitment to women they sort of do want to commit to, which is why mothers and sisters should yell at their sons and brothers about getting a move on and why girlfriends should try to make a good impression on mothers, sisters and even the nice old ladies pouring tea after Mass. However, men who are simply scared of marriage don't say "Just friends" to a girl they want as a long-term prospect.

8. There is no cure for unrequited love like international travel. And WYD must be the biggest meeting of Catholic marriage enthusiasts in the entire world.  

9. Any consensual sexual sin any of us committed privately a year ago, as a one-off, and have subsequently confessed, and has no long-term consequences, matters less now than the new scuff on our best shoes. As sexual, it is imprudent and maybe even unchaste to think about it, so don't. Almost nobody knows, and nobody cares. Every Christian knows you're a sinner. If Catholic, you say so during the Confiteor at Mass every Sunday.

10. I'm really sorry girls don't trust their mothers more. But this weird post-1919 division between mothers and daughters seems to be so widespread, all I can say is that it is so important for women in positions of authority or in the public eye to be good role models and to tell younger women the truth as it is, not as we wish it were. And younger women must train themselves to always ponder the questions "What is it?" "Is it really so?" and "Knowing that, what should I do?"  Many a time I have stopped myself from a slide into hysteria by reminding myself, "But I have no evidence. I do NOT know that."