Saturday, 13 July 2013

Aunt Seraphic Defends Discretion

Hello, dear poppets! I have returned from my week's holiday in England, where I had no internet access. It was the longest time I had gone without internet access in over ten years. Instead of going crazy, I constantly wrote in my diary while people around me looked uneasy and asked if I were going to write a book about the trip. Ah ha ha ha!

Occasionally I thought about my last post and whether it had been totally responsible and whether anyone would be as mad as a snake that I didn't open the combox to cheers and rebuttals. However, there is always my email and I came back to many emails. If I haven't answered yours already, send it again. I deleted a lot of stuff--accidental bank drafts worth half a million pounds and all that sort of thing.

Someone wrote a very intelligent email about my parting remarks about not publicizing your sexual sins. To sum up, she suggested A) that you can use them to warn fellow women and B) that telling a suitor about some murky action or episode in your past was a good way of testing whether or not he is an angry, judgmental type. If he ditches you for your all-too-human sexual peccadilloes--"Begone, Scarlet Woman, fallen spawn of Satan!"--that just goes to show you're better off without him.

Well, maybe. I think there are safer and faster ways of determining if a man is an angry, judgmental type than telling him your deepest, darkest secrets. And also there are some very good people, very good and gentle people, who just cannot handle your deepest, darkest secrets and so it is best that you not burden them with them unless or until you absolutely have to, e.g. your dearest friend come weeping to you about something terrible she or he did that you have done, too. Oh, and to foil the machinations of blackmailers.    

This is a nasty world, and even (or especially) religious enemies will try to take you down via your sex life, real or imagined. I will not dignify (or endanger) him with a link, but one of our brothers in Christ, who condemned me as a feminist heretic in trad's clothing, salivated over my blog, looking for clues that Auntie S is not as pure as the driven snow. He published his excited suspicions on his soi-disant Catholic blog. I was pretty mad, but I would have been a lot madder had I not a husband and at least one brother who now wants to go to his house and thump him.

Here is my response to your fellow reader:

Dear Reader,

Your past is your past. You own it, and you can tell people about it or not as you choose. Many women, however, think they owe the world--or men they date--complete access to their past in a spirit of "keeping it real." So first of all, I am trying to encourage young women to keep what is theirs, theirs. 

Second, people do judge us on our past sins, even sincere Christians who know they shouldn't judge. (The world judges mercilessly.) We have no control over what people choose to do with the information we give them, or how they feel about us once they have it.  [So we really do have to be careful.]

Third, men are extremely visual, and many (most?) of them have a hair-trigger sexual imagination. They simply do not like to imagine their sweethearts with other men, but they almost can't help it, if they are told about it. This is too bad, and I hope they can get over this without at the same time losing their instinctual protectiveness for women they admire. I think "getting over it" most probable in a man who has discovered himself head-over-heels in love with a woman and couldn't care less what she has done in the past, as long as she loves him back. 

Fourth, this tendency of being disturbed by the idea of women-one-knows as sexual sinner is going to be most likely among religiously conservative men, especially if they grow up fearing and resenting sexual sin. Pro-lifer activists I have met have been like that,  probably because sexual sin leads so often to ab*rti*n. I have never forgotten an otherwise very sweet pro-life teenage colleague, who adored both his mother and his sister, saying to me, "There's a difference between a slut and a Sunday School teacher." 

Fifth, I firmly believe men take their cues about a woman from other men. Men who hear Sally-Sue say "Men use me and dump me" are most likely to conclude (if only subconsciously) "Sally-Sue is the kind of woman we use and dump." But men who hear Sally-Sue say "Men treat me like a princess; they're so nice to me!" are most likely to conclude, "Sally-Sue is the kind of woman we compete for." 

For all these reasons, I think it is dangerous for a Single woman--and possibly a married woman, too--to use episodes of sexual sin from her life as a teaching method. It strikes me that it would be much safer if she were to write a novel about it. My guess is that many a truth-embracing novel has inspired women not to make the same mistakes as the heroine. Heck, I have never touched cocaine because of a character who died the first time she tried it in the Sweet Valley High stories. 

There are safer ways to test whether or not a man is a judgmental son-of-a-gun. [Just listen to how he talks about others, particularly women.] And, of course, the longer you know a man, the more likely he is to see you as you and not as his image of you-- angel, feminist, devil, or whomever--so the longer  a woman can hold off sharing the darker spots of her past the better. 

And this might indeed take discipline because for whatever reason, many women seem to want to confess to the men they love, either to test the bounds of their unconditional love (which I am not sure men have for their wives, anyway--their mothers, yes), or to feel "forgiven." However, only God can give that kind of all-healing forgiveness; we cannot find it in men. 

I hope this is a helpful explanation of my "don't tell" policy!

Grace and peace,


Jackie said...

Welcome back, Seraphic! Seeing a new post from you is such a treat!

Thanks for articulating this so well. I don't know if it is the "public confessional" culture, or the entitlement culture? That we somehow owe men this extremely personal thing that is only meant to be known by God, our future husband and, possibly, our confessor and/or doctor. It is *beyond* uncomfortable, for me at least! So I really appreciate this column!

By the way, the otherwise sweet prolife teenager-- did you ever ask him why he thinks it's okay to call people "sluts"? I mean, Jesus said "Go and sin no more" to the woman at the well without calling names. I wonder if he's considered that his attitude is keeping a potential Sister in Christ away and in shame.

PS: This is in regards to the previous post, but have you read C.S. Lewis's short story "The Ministering Angels"? It may take the cake (or burnt biscuit) for most misogynistic!

Depressive Anon said...

Okay, this isn't in the realm of sexual sins, but what are your thoughts on disclosing mental illness?

I suffer from chronic Major Depressive Disorder, which is probably not alone, but rather a symptom other mental/behavioral problems that my doctors haven't been able to identify yet, though we're currently looking into where I fall on the autism scale.

I'm on medication and in therapy, but I've been told that I will probably be dealing with this, to some degree, for the rest of my life, though the goal is to make it "manageable."

So, my question is, when and how should I tell a date that? It's a huge part of my life that affects me every day. It affects what time I want to leave a party and go to bed. I am sometimes inexplicably moody (to put it mildly). Sometimes I am very difficult, and sometimes I find others very difficult. In short, my mental health is going to play a huge roll in any future relationships (as it already does wit my family relationships and friendships.)

So, a boyfriend, I think, has a right to know, and sooner rather than later. It's certainly not first date material, but I think it would be best to tell him before we became exclusive. The worst possible thing would be to surprise him with an unexpected meltdown.

Your thoughts?

Seraphic said...

Dear Depressed Anon,

I suffer from a mood disorder and at least once had a full-blown case of clinical depression. It was so bad I dropped out of my PhD and went home and felt absolutely terrible 60% of the time. The other 40% I was asleep or writing. Now that I'm not in it, I see that it was like a physical illness: some hours a day I was okay, and some hours I felt like I was dying.

When I met my husband after over a year of being sick and getting better, he told me about an important ex-girlfriend who had had Clinical Depression, and I thought uneasily of my pills, and thought, "Poor guy! You've met another one!" However, as he talked, I realized how well he had taken care of this girlfriend and coped with her illness. So when, eventually (not at that moment!), I told him about my mood disorder, I felt confident that he would be able to cope. And he does.

So what I recommend is not dating at all when you are in a bad place, and dating only when you are in a space where you are functioning at a good level, and bringing up the subject of mental health in general before disclosing you have mental health issues yourself.

You are not your mental health issues, just as someone with cancer or diabetes is not her cancer or diabetes. However, many people--women as well as men--treat dating, especially internet dating, as a kind of spouse shopping. They're looking for the best product on the market. I know--horrible. But most of us act like that with stranger-dating.

This is yet another reason why women should not chase men but make a lot of friends and see if romance develops with one of their male friends or friend of friends. People will swiftly pass over a stranger who is "not the best product on the market" but people feel compassion and understanding for those people they actually know as friends.

And I say this not only as someone who lives with a mood disorder but as someone who did some internet dating and was completely turned off by a guy because he had issues with anger and took pills for it. I might have felt differently about him if he had been a friend or a friend of a friend before I met him online. In fact, now that I think about it, the one full-blown mentally ill person I get along with and feel comfortable with is my old high school lab partner's brother.

I am married now, of course, but I think if I were a widow and got really sick--with cancer or something like that---I would not date at all. I would concentrate on ME and MY health and wait until I was in remission. Obviously being in a big cancer struggle would make me not a particular good person to date, nor would I enjoy dating at all. I wonder if it would be the same thing with a mental or mood disorder, but I hope I would keep off the dating battlefield until I was in a much better place.

I don't think this exactly answers your questions, but I hope it's helpful. And in conclusion, I agree that it would be best to tell him before you became exclusive. That way he has fair warning and the freedom to decide if he wants to be in an exclusive relationship with someone with a mental disorder, even if that someone is you.

Julia said...

I think it is very true that people in general share way too much with way too many people. Not even necessarily sexual stuff - people can just use Facebook as a public journal. I really wish for their own sakes that some people would go offline for a bit, because I wonder how they are jeopardising their futures. People complain about work, or just make whiny, cryptic status updates and comments. This is not only women either.

Do you think that women should reveal their sexual sins to their fiancés? I don't necessarily mean every gory detail, but shouldn't a guy know if the woman he's engaged to has slept with (or nearly slept with) some other man?

I'm just reflecting on this because if I were ever engaged, I would want to have a clue about the guy's past in that area. I'd hate to be surprised by some revelation by a former girlfriend of his, and I'd also want to be sure I wouldn't wind up being diagnosed with an STD after our marriage.

Also, I express my sympathy to everyone with any sort of mental illness.

Sheila said...

I would think when you're engaged the conversation would come up at least vaguely ... where you discuss your feelings about sex, whether you are scared or nervous about having it, whether you have a complex about it because you associate it with sin, etc. But there's a difference between saying, "Before my conversion I did a lot of things I wouldn't now," and actually giving gorey details.

Re: novels -- Kristin Lavransdatter takes full credit for keeping me chaste in high school and college. Highly recommend. (It is not a "chastity novel," but the premarital sex in it goes so disastrously I would never want to risk that!)

Lady Anon b/c of subject matter said...

Welcome back! We have missed you! I have a question...what do you do if, erm, one's lack of a past comes up merely by people (very good, long-time friends) guessing based on the way you live? I mean, you wouldn't want to lie if for whatever reason they asked, and is there anything at all to giving witness in explaining why (again, only among very good, long-time friends). I have also had the reverse happen: men tell me there is a past b/c they were worried I would end the fledgling relationship (usually a date or two after they pass The Speech and have processed it)...erm, nooooo...

Seraphic said...

I am all for honesty with fiances and seriously marriage track boyfriends, minus details: "I'm a virgin"/"I'm not a virgin"/"Because of something bad that happened many years ago, I am not comfortable with..."/"I'm sorry to tell you that I have this incurable but manageable disease..."/"Because my parents were so unhappy, I think we should take frankly about..."

When I say fiances, I think I should include serious, marriage-track boyfriends. If your past includes something that continues into the present and into the future and will indeed have an impact on your boyfriend's life, if he marries you, than you need to mention it when he brings up the subject of marriage at a reasonable period of time after dating (e.g. not the second date--more like six months into dating).

But what you did how many times with who and who else, etc., etc., is best left in the confessional and wiped from your memory banks until you are about to open your mouth and say something nasty about somebody else's poor choices. And then keep your mouth shut, both about the somebody else and about you.

Seraphic said...

Lady Anon, I'm sorry we live in a world where people think they can ask other people questions like that, but we do. Well, your personal life is your personal life, and it's up to you to decide who you want to share it with and when. I recommend, however, just saying, "I don't discuss such things with men" to the men, and saying something like, "I'm just a sweet, old-fashioned girl" to the women.

My first (and now annulled) husband was obsessed with the fact I was a virgin. O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D. So obsessed, I almost wish I hadn't been, for then he wouldn't have married me. Isn't that sad? But that's where I'm coming from. Oh, and there is also being a woman from Ontario and remembering all the reports about our most famous (and hated) sex killer, who was particularly interested in raping virgins. Sorry to mention that because it is so horrible but some men are like that. Some men just want to "deflower" virgins, and so they are obsessed with virgins.

One way to keep such characters out of your life is to stay under their radar as much as you can. Needless to say they are a thousand times worse than the sensitive guy who just hates the idea of some other guy having been with the girl he wants to be with.

Seraphic said...

*"take frankly"= talk frankly

Lady Anon said...

Oh my about that Ontario man. And I am sorry to hear about your experience. Thankfully I have not come across too many of those type of men. With close friends, I do try to keep such things closely vested and limit my response to what seems appropriate to the situation and person. figure out how to develop a poker face, as my cheeks usually give everything away when my mouth has worked really hard not to!

Seraphic said...

Frown forbiddingly!

Ally said...

Completely off topic to this post (so delete if you want) but regarding your last post, I just couldn't help but share the fact that all of the "Cat Ladies" I know (As defined by multiple cats - in both the cases I'm thinking of, they each had at least five!) were all MARRIED WOMEN - so I can't figure out where this single old spinster Cat Lady stereotype came from...