I am thinking today about chains, mostly self-imposed ones. Christians know, of course, that indulging in sin is a kind of slavery, and Christianity is all about freedom in Christ. Christ came to free us from sin, not only through His salvific action on the Cross, but by reminding us to put God in the centre of our lives. And that's why it is such a good exercise to give up, not just sin, but something we very much like, some created thing we act dependent on, like coffee or sweeties or meat or TV, for Lent. For 40 days we redirect our attention back onto God: Be Thou our sustenance, our sweetness, our nourishment, the object of our absorption.
The yoke of God is easier than the yoke of pleasure or of eros, no matter how delicious and harmless those things look.
I wrote the other day of my pleased discovery that young-men-in-general can no longer hurt me with their stupid 1-10 ranking system. If I were standing by the bus stop and a van of yobs drove by, as they shouted "1" or "2" or whatever, I would roll my eyes around at the idea of the stupidity of ranking married 39+ ladies and call up their employer, should his name be emblazoned on the van. This is a form of emotional freedom, a freedom that I have because God and then B.A. are at the center of my life. God says through Scripture that charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting (Proverbs 13:30), and B.A. winks at me at parties. If B.A. were to die, I would probably return to Canada and put our family in the centre of my life again. The last think I would want to do is be put in the position of that 60-something lady on the Internet Dating show last night.
Oh, dear. One of the problems of the UK is that hairdressing here is so good and so inexpensive. This means that no matter how old you are, you can have the hair of a twenty-something. But British skin is fair and fragile, and unless we have really awesome dermatological good luck, as we age past 40 or so we look more and more like men. Absolutely great hair + masculine faces = looking like a female impersonator which, when you are a woman, is really awful. Watching that poor lonely woman, whom I hope to heaven has grandchildren, doll herself up for a blind date was terribly sad. She wore spike heeled boots I would question on anyone, even me at 30.
You are mostly too young to be told this, so this is mostly me telling myself: aging gracefully and with dignity and without desperately trying to attract men into your 50s and 60s is a form of emotional freedom. At a certain stage, it really is better just to be grandma. Hopefully a hale and hearty grandma who enjoys mountain-climbing, Pilates and throwing herself from moving airplanes, but grandma nonetheless. I will strive to stop flirting, but come to think of it, I think my grandmother flirted endlessly with bus drivers, and yet in a completely classy way. It probably helped that she died her hair silver, not blonde.
More pertinent for the vast majority of you is the idea of emotional freedom from men who are not interested in marrying you, or from men in whom you are not interested in marrying. On the one hand, this means strangling crushes as soon it is obvious Mr Wonderful is not responding to your smiles, arm-touches and party invitations. On the other hand, it might mean letting go of wonderful friendships. After all, if you're completely attached to a male friend, how are you going to be free to meet a potential husband? No new guy is going to measure up to your wonderful pal.
I'm open to correction on that one because it could be that I am too cynical on the subject of "Men and women can't be friends" and have confused Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie with real life. (I note that Hercule Poirot and Adrienne Oliver are great friends, but they are of a Certain Age and very much Seraphic Singles--I wonder what happened to Mr Oliver. Killed in the Great War, I imagine.) Personally, I just cannot see how an under-40 man and an under-40 woman can be bosom buddies when at least one of them is Single without Sexual Desire raising its smirking head. I would not want B.A. to be bosom buddies with a Single female colleague unless she were verging on or over 60. (Men, especially British men, can feel deeply attracted to women 10 years their senior, but 15-20 is usually too much.)
At the same time, I think men-and-women-not-called-to-celibacy are happier married, and that the best way to keep out of the friendship trap is for men to stop acting like girlfriends, and for women to stop letting them. I cannot cope with the idea of male girlfriends, and would rather have Pretend Sons. My Pretend Sons are clever and handsome and marvellous, and I am happy to tell them so, and they would both make two nice girls wonderful husbands, were not one in the seminary and one determined to die of nicotine poisoning by age 40. Still, I suppose it would be a nice 14 years or so for the tobacco fiend's widow to look back on.
I wonder if it is awful to be proud of the attractiveness of Pretend Sons, and if this is the legacy of my grandmother, who flirted with paramedics as they took her to the hospital. Oh dearie me. Still, I don't think men really mind when women value them for their charm as opposed to their--I don't know--womanly sympathy, if they have it. One thing about flirtation--at its best, it simultaneously gives pleasure and creates a respectful distance. It is thus less of a trap than male-and-female-heart-to-heart-non-married-yet-emotionally-intimate friendship.