Here is an interesting email I received last week:
Hello, Dear Auntie Seraphic!
Good to have you back from Rome!
I remember [that] being pursued or even courted to some extent by young men with girlfriends or fiancées was a nightmare to me when I was in my late teens, and it strongly affected my dating experience. I would think like “He pursues/courts me = he has a girlfriend = he’s not interested” and, as a result it got me to even more absurd thinking “He doesn’t pursue me = he might be interested”. Or, “I’ll have to chase after him MYSELF, because if HE’s doing it, this means trouble”. Oh, dear. So confused I grew up. Even now I tend to be overly cautious when somebody shows interest and overly proactive if they don’t that much.
Have you got any clues about what to do when a man with a girlfriend pursues you? How to set boundaries if he appears regularly in your social circle or at work? How to figure out he’s just friendly towards you and you shouldn’t panic too much as long as you don’t get involved emotionally? Are there limits to already taken men pursuing a Searching Single Woman?
Note: I don’t mean chat-flirting as such, but rather a more “courting behavior”, like for example calling you up regularly, getting out of his way and going places you go, scheming to get you alone, buying you small things, touching you etc. Would be great if you could shed some light onto that issue. I think some other women can relate, too.
Much blessing to you for your wonderful ministry!
You may be thinking, "Hey! What kind of so-and-so gets interested in somebody else when the so-and-so is in a steady dating relationship already?"
(Auntie Seraphic looks shifty and sneaks towards the exit.)
Oh dear. How badly I behaved when I was young. You would not have thought it to look at me, since I was as cute as a fluffy bunny, but really... I think it's because I didn't get the boyfriend I wanted in high school. Also I had a very 1950s concept of dating, which is that you were supposed to go out on dates with as many guys as possible (who all pay) until the one you really fell in love with asked you to marry him.
I don't think that's so terrible, actually, if that's what happens. For example, if a whole lot of guys on a dating site (if you care for dating sites) ask you out for coffee, then I think it is absolutely fine to meet every single one for a coffee.
However, that's not usually what happens. What usually happens, or happened in the 1990s, is that one guy asks you out, and you like him okay, so you go out with him again, and then no other guy asks you out. The only guy asking you out somehow turns into your boyfriend and you think, "Cool! I have a boyfriend! And he's a nice guy. I like him. My mum likes him. Everyone likes him." And since in Catholic circles the boyfriend pressuring you for sex is a universally accepted reason to break up with him (and can destroy his reputation), you can be in a comfy boyfriend-girlfriend relationship for years, eventually getting married, sure, unless you get so bored you become enthralled with someone else.
Or so seemed to be my thinking. In hindsight, I should always have called it quits after Date 3, or at least pondered the injustice of it all, especially re: who pays. Recently I got an anonymous comment claiming I
Anyway, the point to this confession is to observe that it's not just guys with girlfriends who start showing interest in other people. Some girls with boyfriends do, too. The question is whether they sincerely want a regime change or if they merely want two relationships at the same time.
Most people deny their true sexual nature every day, which is a good thing, since most people have a polyamorous orientation. Married people who put their spouses above their own selfish impulses suppress their polyamorous tendencies all the time. And if you don't believe me, ask yourself if you've only ever been sexually attracted to one person, or even just to one person at a time.
It's probably not a shock to know that marriage does not magically make men stop being attracted to other women. It may be a shock to know that women keep on being attracted to other men. But, really, I think faithful women should get as much (or almost as much) credit as faithful men. Temptation gets thrown in women's way, too. Some men, like some women, will stealthily court married people they have their eyes on, the sneaks.
Some people think that the best way to cope with polyamorous tendencies is just to give into them, but in an "honest" way, so that everyone knows who is involved with everyone else. In these arrangements, there are "primary" partners and "secondary" partners. This presumably gives the "primary" partner the feeling that, hey, at least she's/he's still number one. Their "partner" can do whatever he/she wants with the "secondaries" just as long as he's/she's "emotionally faithful" to the "primary." This is complete and utter garbage, involving the exploitation of, at very least, the "secondary" partners, but hey. It's "modern" and "sophisticated" and "revolutionary"---and as old as the oldest profession.
And it's the way many people secretly operate. They justify their courtship of others (potential unwitting "secondary partners") by remaining, in some ill-defined way, faithful to their girlfriend/fiance/spouse. And therefore, what you need to know, if some guy whom you know to have a girlfriend is quite obviously into you, is what he is up to. SO ASK.
This is no time to be subtle. This is serious stuff. If a man is your work or study buddy, and you enjoy chatting at lunch, that's great. But if he has a girlfriend, you shouldn't find yourself often alone with him, or having long phone conversations with him at 10 o'clock at night, or getting presents from him, or being touched by him in a non-touchy culture. Either there is something seriously wrong with his relationship with his girlfriend, or he wants to have his cake and eat it too, i.e. the stability of monogamy and the excitement of polygamy. Ask him which it is.*
Or, to preempt any lies, tell him you're not comfortable being alone, getting late phone calls, receiving presents or being touched by a guy with a girlfriend. In either strategy, all you have to lose is an immature guy who puts his polyamorous tendencies before the woman in his life. And, frankly, a guy who hasn't reached that level of maturity and virtue yet is not marriage material. Maybe he'll be marriage material for someone someday, but he isn't now.
*If he's an elderly, married, childless man who quite obviously adores the young folk, you may want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I know one man like that--a sincerely fatherly, very generous type. And there was at least one nice young foreign seminarian + middle-aged, married "Canadian mother" type relationship at my M.Div. school, and I think either party would have been staggered and hurt if anyone had questioned it. Today I am contemplating only same-age relationships.