Friday, 27 September 2013

Bitterness is the Single's (and Childless's) Worst Enemy

Update: I detect a shocked silence in the combox, so I thought I'd better add that this is not about anyone in particular, least of all anyone whose views we discussed yesterday. It is a response to an email I received about how difficult it is to be a Seraphic Single when you are surrounded by Sarcastic Singles.


Five years ago I arrived in Scotland for a holiday, largely funded by readers who bought my self-published novellas or just threw money in my tip jar. And that is when I met Benedict Ambrose in person, plus the Historical House and the local Extraordinary Form of the Mass and modern-day Scotland. In short, my daily life was transformed almost beyond recognition five years ago today.

Amusingly, just like all my other readers upon meeting me, Benedict Ambrose launched into an explanation of why he was Single and told me all about his dating history, which would have made for a disastrous first date, had it been a date. Fortunately, though, it was not a date, but an "Auntie Seraphic Has Just Met Another Reader In Person" episode, so I went straight into Auntie Seraphic mode, which means listening very hard while simultaneously working out what my reader might need to ponder or do. And, frankly, what I thought what B.A. needed to do was to marry a nice Catholic girl who was into all his Extraordinary Form of the Mass weirdness. Fortunately, I didn't say that. (I was too tired, jet-lagged and culture-shocked to say much at all!)

What I really liked about B.A. (and still do, come to think of it) was his lack of bitterness. He was super-cheerful and pleasant to everyone around and never had a bad word to say about anybody. He did not complain at all, and indeed did not complain about anything or anybody for some time. Now he occasionally does get grouchy, but he's a human being and a Scot, and Scots are famously grouchy. Plus I personally am a volcano of resentment, and occasionally go into a tangent about the evils of American soi-disant Catholic academic theology that lasts about 72 hours at a stretch.

But he wasn't grouchy and I didn't voice my resentment when we met. And indeed since before then we only knew each other from our blogs, we already had first impressions firmly fixed in our heads: I thought he was clever, funny, kind although BEARDED (and I hated beards), and he thought I was pretty, funny and kind although possibly an AIRHEAD. (The perpetually sunny tone of my blog led him to think I might be an airhead.)Fortunately, as we all know, men do not immediately dismiss women who might be airheads, if they think we are pretty. They take us out for coffee to find out the truth.

Now, I say over and over that the most attractive qualities in men and women are confidence and joy. But I think I may need to emphasize that confidence is the MOST attractive quality in a man (followed by joy) whereas joy is the MOST attractive quality in a woman (followed by confidence). And true confidence doesn't need to wear brand names. For example, a confident guy or girl who went to Harvard doesn't need to make sure everyone knows that they went to Harvard. Harvard is just where they went to college and met some great people and had some great profs and ate amazing barbecue in Somerville, and it's part of the past now--"Tell me about you."

Joy makes people glow, and the more you do things you enjoy, and the more you think happy thoughts, and the more you distance yourself from negative circumstances and people, the more joyful you will be. No, you can't pretend evil doesn't exist--there are times when you have to stand and fight, write that letter or make that phone call--but you can fight it in a joyful way. ("One more into the breach, dear friends, once more!") I have a friend who never looks more joyful than when he is denouncing my heresies; he positively chuckles and the very sun shines more brightly and even though I want to kick him, I have to love him because A) he is totally without malice and B) he's just so cheerful about it. ("And there you are. Pom pom pom.")

Bitterness, of course, starts off as a delicious drug. For example, nothing gives me a kick like an over-the-top, well-written blog post that takes no prisoners--unless it's about me, in which case I scream like a banshee. And it can be such a relief when someone voices the cranky thought you are having but don't want to say, e.g. "Being Single sucks and if X stares at her engagement ring one more time, I'm going to drown her in the sink."

Now, you have a choice. You can be all goody-goody and say, "Oh, that's a terrible thing to say." Or you can guffaw and say "You hold her; I'll turn on the taps." Or you can squeeze your pal's arm sympathetically and say, "Let's blow this Popsicle stand and get a real drink." Guess which one I advocate?

The truth is that bitterness is indeed worse for us than a nice cocktail (mmm...what time is it? is it too early for a... yes) and it doesn't help us get what we want, whatever it is. It is much more likely to scare other people away or attract only those people who are themselves bitter and want permission to soak in it. (By the way, Kate, write in and tell me about the negative things people on CM said when you pointed out the joys of the Single state.)

And it occurs to me that bitterness gets in the way of people who want to help you carry the burden of your real sadness. Bitterness may make a mountain out of a molehill, but there's still that molehill to be addressed, and that is best done by people who really care about you, not by people who are just jonesin' for a shot of that good ol' bitterness-high.

It could be that the spiritual reason why I haven't had children and may never have children (and our economic/Historical House circumstances rule out adoption right now) is so that I can give 700 daily readers, or however more I get, assurance that life will still be worth living if you have, as I have, an unfulfilled desire for children. And it could be that the spiritual reason why you're still single is because... Well, I don't know. In hindsight (20/20), I think God wanted me to learn how to cope cheerfully with Singleness so I would write this blog and not get married until B.A. was ready to get married, which was probably not until he was received into the Church, shortly after he met me.

All the bitterness in the world would not have changed Immutable Providence and, indeed, it would have only got in the way. Most of my readers read, not to get a drug, but to feel happier, and although my cheerful tone made B.A. suspect I might be an airhead, it inspired him to invite me to Scotland.

And there you are. Pom pom pom.


Heather in Toronto said...

I loved the lack of bitterness in your book - it's why I looked up your blog and follow it now!

Bitterness is easy to drown in. Especially on the internet, where you can always find all sorts of company for whatever misery you are nursing, no matter what it is.

Seraphic said...

The worst internet site ever, for me, was a message board for women with fertility issues who would be, basically, live-blogging their most personal bodily stuff. One sign of early pregnancy is "spotting" so there would be various desperately wondering if they were "spotting" or just launched onto Day 1 of their next cycle.

It was the saddest, most frantic, most heartbreaking message board I had ever seen, and I thought, "No, I cannot be here. I cannot read this stuff. I will go crazy."

Kate said...

I'm absolutely against bitterness, but I'm also against people who try to be peppy/happy/exuberant at all times. We should hope, of course, but I think it's unrealistic and perhaps psychologically harmful for women to come off as joyous at all times (regardless of whether they're single/married/nun). I also think some of this depends on your innate personality; we shouldn't force those who aren't quite as prone to blitheness to feel they need to assume it to fit in.

Kate said...

I should clarify: I'm not the Kate who writes for Catholic Match. :)

Jam said...

I think my phone ate my previous attempt to comment, so: I got an email from Ignatius that my pre-order of Ceremony of Innocence has shipped! Thought I would share since I noticed other people wondering. (I am in the US and ordered directly from Ig.Pr.)

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Yes, I too just got an email from Ignatius. Ceremony of Innocences has just shipped. Yay! So happy for you, Seraphic!

Domestic Diva said...

Lovely post, Seraphic. I really need to hear you preach this theme from time to time.

Roadkill Rhapsody said...

It was the joy in your writing that drew me back to this blog; it really changed my own outlook on life. Thank you!

Seraphic said...

And thank you!

Meanwhile, I'm glad to hear that the book is finally out. It's going to be controversial in all kinds of ways, so I am nerving myself for any fires.

Lena said...

I finally reached a point where I got tired of hearing MYSELF complain.

Urszula said...

Very encouraging and lovely post!

I have a question on this topic. Do you have any suggestions on 'duking it out with God'? A friend was suggested to do this by a priest as she was very upset and embittered, feeling disappointed by God and not just bitter, but rather angry. I think you posted about this a while back - but perhaps you could give some advice? How does one go about 'storming' at God - and when should one stop? Is there a healthy and helpful way of doing this?

Roseograce said...

It was desperation to lose the creeping bitterness that made me google something along the lines of "still single" and "catholic" and whatever other terms led me to your blog. Your posts are bright and encouraging, and inspire me to want to live my single life to the fullest and accomplish whatever it is God wants me to be accomplishing during this period of my life. Thank you!

MaryJane said...

Urzula: "Duking it out with God" is very, very biblical. Read the Old Testament (think: Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Jonah, Jeremiah, etc.). Some of the psalms are fantastic for this purpose, which is why (I believe) the Church prays them daily in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Praying through the psalms can be very healing. Sometimes you can feel the psalmist shaking his fist at God: "why have you left me? The enemy is surrounding me!" and other times there are periods of tranquility following the outbursts: "but I will wait on the Lord." Sometimes there is straight up bargaining: "If you rescue me, I will praise you in the assembly. If you let me die, well, the dead can't praise you!" The point is that we are supposed to pray through the psalms with our lives, which I have found to be incredibly helpful in my own faith life - I hope it helps you too!

Urszula said...

MaryJane - thank you, that is very helpful. I love your suggestion of praying the Psalms, it's true that they contain so much human, real emotion! And a very tangible honesty with God, the Creator.